Sensitive Teeth

Published: 08th January 2010
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So what's going on? Why do your teeth react to hot, cold, sweet, or sour, and sometimes even to pressure? Well, it could be many things, according to Jack W Clinton, D.M.D., associate dean of patient services at Oregon Health Sciences University School of Dentistry in Portland. "The difficulty with sensitive teeth is there is a wide variety of problems that can cause the teeth to become sensitive," he says. "It can be as simple as a 'bruised' tooth from biting down too hard on something, to as complicated as necrotic, or dead, tooth pulp that requires root-canal work."

One or more teeth can become sensitive to pressure, even to mild chewing, when a tooth is "bruised" or traumatized from biting down too hard or from having a tooth worked on at the dentist's office. Often, teeth feel sensitive after they've been cleaned or filled. Sometimes this kind of sensitivity can take weeks or even months to go away. In other cases, people can cause tooth sensitivity by habitual tooth grinding or clamping the jaws tightly. This type of sensitivity to pressure isn't something to worry about if it happens once or twice and goes away in a day or two. The tooth or teeth simply need time to recover from the trauma. It's when the pressure sensitivity is persistent that you should suspect something like a break, crack, or decayed tooth and should see your dentist.

Sensitivity to temperature usually means teeth have been compromised in some way, says Clinton. Sometimes it means one or more teeth are hitting too soon or too hard and the "bite" must be readjusted by a dentist. "Teeth may be hard," explains Clinton, "but they move around. Bone is reabsorbed or, sometimes, habits like thumb sucking can move teeth around and change how the teeth come together."

By far, the most common cause of sensitivity to temperature and sweet or sour foods is exposed dentin, according to Sandra Hazard, D.M.D., managing dentist for Willamette Dental Group, Inc., in Oregon. Exposed dentin can be the result of dental decay, food or toothbrush abrasion, or gum recession. "Dentin is the material underneath the enamel and what the roots are made of," Hazard explains. "The dentin has microscopic nerve fibers that, when exposed, cause the sensitivity. " If you develop sensitivity in one or more teeth, first see your dentist to determine the cause. Then, if your sensitivity is caused by simple enamel abrasion or by normal gum recession, try these strategies for relief.

Bring on The Desensitizing Toothpaste : Unfortunately, widespread tooth sensitivity due to enamel abrasion or gum-line recession can't be treated with dental fillings. One of the best home remedies for overall sensitivity, says Hazard, are the desensitizing toothpastes available over the counter. "They contain a special ingredient that fills up the tubules in the dentin and decreases sensitivity," she says. In addition to brushing with desensitizing toothpaste, Ken Waddell, D.M.D., a dentist in private practice in Tigard, Oregon, suggests putting some of the toothpaste on your finger or on a cotton swab and spreading it over the sensitive spots before you go to bed. Spit, but don't rinse. "You should see considerable relief in two or three weeks," he says.

Try a Fluoride Rinse : Fluoride rinses, available without a prescription at your local pharmacy or in the dental section of grocery stores, can help decrease sensitivity, especially for people with decay problems, says Hazard. Use it once a day. Swish it around in your mouth, then spit it out. Sometimes, people with sensitive teeth need a stronger fluoride rinse or gel than the ones available over the counter, says Ronald Wismer, D.M.D., a dentist in private practice in Beaverton, Oregon, who sees many patients with sensitive teeth. "If you've had a periodontal procedure like root planing to get rid of plaque," he says, "your dentist can apply a fluoride that can help decrease sensitivity."

Keep Your Teeth Clean : It's particularly important to keep plaque, the white gummy substance that forms on teeth, off areas that are sensitive. "As plaque metabolizes, it produces acid, which irritates the teeth," explains Hazard. "It can cause sensitive teeth to react even more strongly when stimulated." Brush at least twice a day, preferably right after eating, and floss at least once a day.

Use a Soft Toothbrush : Often, people actually cause tooth sensitivity by brushing incorrectly with a hard-bristled brush. "Before i knew much about brushing, i brushed too hard with the wrong toothbrush and caused enamel abrasion on the right side of my mouth," admits Hazard. When the gum line recedes (often as a natural part of the aging process), exposed dentin becomes even more vulnerable to toothbrush abrasion. "Enamel is very hard," says Wismer, "but dentin isn't and is much more subject to abrasion by things like brushing." Use a brush with the softest bristles you can find, and apply only a small amount of pressure when brushing. Avoid using a "scrubbing" action to clean the teeth.

Say Enough To Snuff : Chewing tobacco, also known as "dip" or "snuff," has become a popular habit. especially among many teenagers. They mistakenly believe it's less harmful than smoking cigarettes. However, in addition to causing mouth cancers. chewing tobacco causes the gums to recede, a major cause of gum sensitivity and decay. Habits like sucking on hard candy, while safer than snuff. can also cause enamel abrasion and tooth sensitivity.

Michael Russell writes for On this site you will find information on diseases and tips for curing them with remedies available. Also, if you wish to publish the above article, you are welcome to do so, just you need to provide a link back to authors site at :

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